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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   ^73
was no doubt that he would recover, the major never
ceased to curse his "damned joints" that were causing him
so much trouble. His grumbling and growling grew into
a steady rage; he would go into a frenzy over some trifle
and curse and swear at everybody and everything. At
such moments it seemed he would strike anybody who
attempted to reason with him. By common consent his
wardmates left him alone during such fits, let him "use
up his ammunition", as they put it, and waited until his
natural cheerfulness gained the upper hand over his war-
shattered nerves.
Struchkov himself attributed his growing impatience to
the fact that he was unable to go and have a smoke in the
toilet and also to the fact that he was unable to go into
the corridor to see the red-haired nurse from the operat-
ing-room with whom, so he alleged, he had already
exchanged winks when he was having his legs rebandaged.
There may have been some truth in this, but Mere-
syev noticed that these fits of irritation broke out after
the major had seen aircraft flying over the hospital, or
when the radio and the newspapers reported a new in-
teresting air battle, or the achievement of some airman
he knew. This also made Meresyev irritably impatient,
but he gave no sign of it, and comparing himself with
Struchkov he was conscious of a feeling of triumph. It
seemed to him that he was coming at least a little bit
nearer to the model he had chosen of the "real man".
Major Struchkov remained true to himself: he ate a
great deal, laughed heartily and was fond of talking
about women, appearing to be a woman-lover and a
woman-hater at the same time. For some reason he was
particularly severe in his criticism of the women in the
Meresyev detested the talk that Struchkov indulged in.
When listening to him he always had before his eyes a
vision of Olya, or of that funny little girl at the meteo-
rological station, who, as was related in the wing, had
chased a too enterprising sergeant-major from the Main-
tenance Crew Battalion out of her sentry-box with the
butt of her rifle and nearly shot him in her excitement;
Alexei had an idea that it was these women that Struch-
kov was maligning. One day, after listening to one of